• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Politics of the skies

Politics of the skies

It’s interesting to note that while many businesses are facing challenges such as shrinking, closing, and relocating, there are still some success stories in Nigeria. One shining example is Air Peace, an airline that is not only surviving but thriving despite the tough business environment. It’s inspiring to see a company like Air Peace defy the odds and succeed in the midst of uncertainty.

It’s fascinating to see how Air Peace is not only thriving in Nigeria but also facing obstacles as it seeks to expand internationally. The airline is encountering opposition from a group of foreign airlines and regulators who have long dominated the Nigerian airspace. These foreign airlines have been known to charge exorbitant airfares and are now pushing back against any Nigerian airline attempting to enter their airspace legally.

Q: “The airline is encountering opposition from a group of foreign airlines and regulators who have long dominated the Nigerian airspace. These foreign airlines have been known to charge exorbitant airfares and are now pushing back against any Nigerian airline attempting to enter their airspace legally.”

In my opinion, competition is a driving force in the world. Everyone wants to succeed, and some believe that success can only come at the expense of others. This belief seems to be evident in the actions of international civil aviation regulators and service providers, who are accused of obstructing Nigerian airline operators’ access rights as outlined in the Bilateral Aviation Safety Agreements (BASA).

Read also: Gatwick airport asks passengers to fly Air Peace to Lagos

On March 30, 2024, the Air Peace Airlines’ inaugural flight from Lagos to London to Lagos marked a symbolic and economic milestone for Nigeria. Allen Onyema, the CEO of Air Peace Airlines, declared that the airline has sold Lagos-London tickets until September 2024.

Deliberate Frustration

The CEO of Air Peace has granted a number of press interviews. As expected, the Air Peace boss said foreign airlines operating the Lagos-London route “are fighting back.” “We are being deliberately frustrated in all ways,” he said, citing ground handling and space allocation difficulties at Gatwick Airport in the last couple of days. “It’s a very deadly conspiracy,” said a dissatisfied Allen Onyema. “All of a sudden, foreign airlines are underpricing; below the cost, it’s not up to one month an airline was advertising $100, another one $305, or $350.”

“Fill up the entire aircraft and carry people on the wings; it’s not even enough to buy your fuel. So, why are they doing that? Their governments are supporting them because Nigeria has been a cash cow for everybody.” “Their governments are supporting them to do this and take Air Peace out. The idea is to take Air Peace out, and the moment they succeed in taking Air Peace out, Nigerians will pay 20 times over again.

Onyema invites other Nigerian airlines to join the Nigerian-UK route to break the monopoly hitherto enjoyed by foreign carriers operating into the four major gateway airports: Lagos, Abuja, Kano, and Port Harcourt. “Let all of us do international operations. Yes, international aero-politics is very dirty, but somebody must pay the price,” he said. But why aero-politics?

Aeropolitics has been identified by experts as a critical part of the global aviation system. It is intentionally broad, covering not only the legal and economic regulatory structures that are in place between two or more countries. It also covers state-centred activities such as the provision of infrastructure, state investment, and regulatory frameworks governing global air transport. Aeropolitics has the sole aim of ensuring that airlines, particularly in developing countries, enhance their footprint by becoming sustainable and profitable. There are various research studies and economic models out there indicating substantive prospects for cargo and passenger growth on the continent of Africa.

The crux of the matter is that if the price regime, regulations, infrastructure, customer service, safety standards, and state investment, amongst others, aren’t right with African airlines, opportunities available to airlines on the continent will go to waste or be taken up by other airlines. We want to believe that Air Peace is aware of what is at stake and that the government is willing to support the airline and others desirous of flying international routes. Allen Onyema expressed appreciation to President Bola Tinubu and Minister Keyamo for being “solidly behind” Air Peace even as the airline navigates the political side of operating in London.

Read also: How Dangote and Air Peace rose up against the economic strangulation of Nigeria

Charity, they say, must begin at home. All the government needs to do is implement the right policies and protocols to support our industries, and most importantly, the aviation industry. We shouldn’t expect Air Peace Airlines to play second fiddle abroad and suffer the same at home.

Nigerians must see this as a national battle for existential survival, not just for the travelling public but for our image, honour, and reputation in the international community.

A public intellectual once said that he expects the ‘backchannel’ talks to have started now. “Without government support (incentives) and pairing with reformed capital providers looking for assets to put their money in, the consequences will be dire on the airline for daring to trigger a price war against the entrenched players.”

Frankly, Air Peace requires the country’s complete support to withstand the attempt by competing international airlines to force it out of the market. It’s a fierce price war.

“It’s all about price points.” “We have seen how an Onyema-induced price war plays out to a large extent. Our people are rushing for the cheaper tickets and not collaborating. That is the situation we are in now. The price point is everything.”

What should Air Peace do?

Air Peace has the opportunity to enhance its services by focusing on its strengths, such as providing superior in-flight service, offering more legroom, and providing better entertainment options. With the introduction of delicious Nigerian meals on Lagos-London flights, the airline can further improve its customer service by implementing initiatives like shorter check-in lines, priority boarding for frequent flyers, and enhanced in-flight assistance. The airline should also revamp its loyalty programme, start offering bonus miles for consistent customers, and partner with Lagos and London hotels to offer flight and hotel packages at competitive rates.

Air Peace could potentially attract a wider range of customers by introducing student discounts, family travel packages, and senior citizens’ deals.

A “Fly Nigerian Campaign” could be a great initiative to promote a homegrown airline like Air Peace, which not only supports job creation and the national economy but also prioritises customer satisfaction over propaganda or price wars. Thank you.

MA Johnson, Rear Admiral (Rtd)